Bills Addrerss Property Rights

Article excerpt

DENVER _ When you bought those 40 woodland acres, it was an investment. Years from now, when your child's college tuition comes due, you could cut and sell the timber for profit.

But then the government, citing environmental concerns, says you can't. And the value of your land falls faster than a teetering redwood.

Does the government owe you compensation?

Yes, says a burgeoning property rights movement. In the courts and in the legislatures, it is seeking to underscore and augment the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which says private property shall not "be taken for public use, without just compensation."

The property rights movement argues that "taking" property need not mean taking possession of it _ that by regulations, the government takes away control of property and the value of it, and should pay. A recent Supreme Court decision has given the movement added impetus.

Property rights is an issue that is as old as this country. But the current movement dates to the mid-1980s, and was inspired by an ever-increasing number of environmental regulations.

"We've gone to being the most regulated society in history, and we're starting to see the effects of it," said David Alnasi, of the Washington-based Defenders of Property Rights. "People are tired of getting their property taken, and this is the backlash."

Environmentalists like Jon Goldin-Dubois of the Colorado Private Interest Research Group say "takings" laws hinder the government's ability to enforce regulations "in the best interest of the public as a whole."

The movement is "about using property any way I want without regard for public safety," said Carmi McLean of Clean Water Action.

But the property-rights tide is rising, nonetheless. Between 80 and 90 bills addressing the issue were introduced in some 30 states this year. As of mid-May, seven bills had passed state legislatures; two passed in all of 1993.

"For 30 states to be considering bills in this area, this ranks up there with unfunded federal mandates," said Larry Morandi of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"It is the top environmental issue this session in terms of state legislation," Morandi said.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative clearinghouse for state legislators, is pushing the agenda, providing model legislation for interested legislators.

"Environmental protection benefits society; therefore, society should bear the costs," reads the outline of ALEC's property rights agenda this year.

"It is inequitable for government to shift the cost of environmental protection to a small number of private property owners who are coerced into `donating' their assets. …